Classmates react to Chehalis teen accused of extortion with explicit photos
CHEHALIS, Wash. -- After a lengthy investigation by the FBI and local law enforcement, a 16-year-old Chehalis boy is accused of extortion involving explicit photos of his classmates. Prosecutors now hope to charge the teen as an adult.
“I find that outrageous,” said student Lewis Gonzalez.
Students at W.F. West High School in Chehalis can't believe one of their classmates was arrested and accused of extortion. Investigators discovered more than 900 illicit photographs.
“I don't agree with what he did,” said a good friend of the suspect, Delani Buchanan.
“I've known him ever since 6th grade. He sings, he’s an AP student. He's smart, funny, outgoing,” said Taylor Gayna, a senior and a friend of the suspect.
About a dozen of the alleged victims are fellow students at W.F. West High School. Investigators believe there are as many as a 100 victims total. The suspect also has told law enforcement he refers to himself as a "predator."
"The sheer number of victims makes this an alarming case,” said Lewis County Prosecutor Johnathan Meyer.
The Lewis County Prosecutor said the teen created fake social media accounts to target other students; the suspect pretended to be a girl, and asked classmates to send explicit pictures. Then, the teen threatened to extort them if they didn't send more. The prosecutor said the suspect went ahead and sent the pictures to friends.
“We are worried about the victims and families in this matter because it was so far reaching and breach of trust,” Meyer said.
Some criticize the Chehalis School District for knowing about the FBI investigation and not taking action after allegations surfaced last school year.
“This investigation going on for quite some time. We are aware of that. When the FBI came to us, we are good at following instructions of law enforcement. And that's exactly what we did,” said Superintendent Ed Rothlin of Chehalis School District.
Meanwhile, the FBI released this statement today:
“The FBI informed the W.F. West High School administration about our investigation, including the nature of it, and that the subject and victims were current students. As an FBI agent on multiple occasions emphasized concern for the safety of all students involved and recommended the school follow its applicable district policies for such matters. The FBI did not provide any specific instruction on how the school should proceed, aside from advising that the school take the measures it deemed appropriate to keep students safe.”
Many students are concerned that there may be more victims out there.
“That's kind of messed up-- ruining people's reputations or what not,” said student Eric Delgado.
The teen suspect faces three charges and up to 40 more charges could be filed next week as more victims are identified.
The suspect has been in juvenile custody since Tuesday. He'll be back in court October 24th.